The art of being wholly immersed within a video game and its universe is, in my opinion, the most important distinction between a game and any other form of art. The level of freedom afforded by video games offers the player an unparalleled immersive experience that is simply unobtainable elsewhere. Regardless of whether the experience is linear or of a more open nature, being completely immersed within its world, characters and charm is a fundamentally unique facet of video games. The challenge then lies in creating a world worth investing in, a universe that imbues the player with a fulfilling sense of belonging. Beasts of Maravilla Island, if nothing else, is an excellent showcase in not only how to completely immerse a player within the digital sphere, but in how to make a video game feel simultaneously unique and fun.
“Upon playing Beasts of Maravilla Island my reservations about the photography-based gameplay were immediately shattered.”
I feel like I have to preface this review with the fact that I’ve never played Pokémon Snap, New or old. We never had a Nintendo console growing up, not even a Wii (blasphemy!), so it sort of fell under my radar a little. It’s because of this that the idea of a photo-taking video game seemed a tad alien to me. When I first heard of Beasts of Maravilla Island, I was besotted with its visuals and world, but was unsure about its core gameplay. You venture to Maravilla Island on the behest of your late father with nothing but his camera and notebook. It’s your job to capture the fauna and flora of Maravilla Island and share the truth with the world.
Upon playing Beasts of Maravilla Island my reservations about the photography-based gameplay were immediately shattered. There is something unequivocally satisfying about pulling out your camera and capturing a never-before-seen moment in nature. Beasts of Maravilla Island makes this experience enjoyable by crafting a world that could plausibly exist within our own.
“I played through Beasts of Maravilla Island with headphones, and I was thankful I did. I’ve never felt so immersed in a world as I did playing this.”
The movement patterns and placement of everything within these dense and detailed environments feel unpredictable and random. While this may on paper sound like a negative, it actually works tremendously in the game’s favour. The unpredictability of Maravilla Island makes it feel truly alive. Everything you capture feels like it is wholly unique to your experience. I felt as if no two photos across any player’s saves would ever be alike. It is a phenomenal undertaking that is only heightened by its lack of on-rails gameplay.
This sense of believability is further enhanced by the unbelievably incredible soundscape that permeates much of your playthrough. The inconceivably astounding cacophony of sounds that play throughout each environment is truly staggering. From the chirping of birds and howling screeches of the Rainbow Crested Quetzal Monkey to the fluttering of a thousand leaves, every location is brought to life thanks to the lovingly and clearly meticulously crafted sound design. I played through Beasts of Maravilla Island with headphones, and I was thankful I did. I’ve never felt so immersed in a world as I did playing this.
“The level of intractability and personality of the photography-based gameplay makes it feel as if your presence is felt.”
There are so many fantastic moments scattered throughout Beasts of Maravilla Island. From the majestic flocking of those Rainbow Crested Quetzal Monkey’s down to their nests to the more intimate moments tucked away down a secret side passage, everything is bound to bring a bright smile to your face. A standout moment for me was when I came across the two Banana Peel Toucan’s resting cosily at the top of a tree nattering away. It was a genuinely heart-warming moment.
There are a variety of ways you can capture unique poses for each animal or bug. By whistling you’ll usually get your subject to perform a pose. These can range from birds leaping into the air with their wings proudly burst open to a flock of animals turning to face you and whistling back. They add a level of intractability and personality to the photography-based gameplay. This makes it feel as if your presence on the island is truly felt.
There are also puzzles that can cause certain animals to react in unique ways. These are almost always scripted but create some astonishingly memorable moments. The puzzles are never mind-boggling but are rather simple affairs that rarely take longer than a minute to solve. Honestly, I found this to be incredibly beneficial. Lumbering around trying to solve some obscure puzzle would only detract from the overall experience. As with all of Beasts of Maravilla Island, the results are always incredibly rewarding and make the already incredibly engaging experience that much more enjoyable.
“While it is easy to say that every game I even remotely enjoy is the ‘best game of the year’, with this game I genuinely mean it.”
Unfortunately, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few negatives. While Beasts of Maravilla Island is an outstanding game, it is not without its faults. For example, on one occasion I found myself running up a tall vine like I was Spiderman. In reality, what I was supposed to do was slowly clamber up like a far less agile and out-of-shape Spiderman. From time to time, although admittedly rather infrequently, some of the animals would clip through trees or branches.
However, I never found any of these experiences to be particularly game-breaking nor immersion breaking. Frankly, more than anything, they were a testament to how truly phenomenal of a game Beasts of Maravilla Island is. If this is the worst that occurred to me, then for a game developed by a relatively small team, it is an outstanding achievement.
Beasts of Maravilla Island is a visually striking, engaging and immersive experience with incredibly enjoyable gameplay and a fantastic world full of life and character to explore. How and why this game has thus far seemingly flown under the radar is simply baffling to me. I strongly believe this to be one of the most meaningful and incredible experiences I’ve had this year. While it is easy to say that every game I even remotely enjoy is the “best game of the year”, with this game I genuinely mean it. I’m certain that I’m yet to experience some of the great indie games this year has to offer. But if I am being truly honest, I’m not sure they’ll hold a candle to Beasts of Maravilla’s excellence.